Tanzania suspends Serengeti officials after rhino killings

Four senior wildlife officials and 28 game wardens have been suspended after poachers killed two critically-endangered rhinos in Tanzania's Serengeti park, according to the country's minister for natural resources and tourism Hamisi Kagasheki.

A female East African black rhinoceros and her calf were killed for their horns about a month ago but the event went seemingly unnoticed by rangers for a number of days. Kagasheki alleged collusion between the park’s staff and the poachers, and said he was angry that the country's national parks authority TANAPA had failed to furnish his ministry with a report.

The most senior of the 32 officials suspended are Justine Hando, the acting director of TANAPA, and Emily Kisamo, the Serengeti's chief warden, while five suspected poachers have also been arrested.

The two animals killed belonged to a group of five rhinos moved to the Serengeti from South Africa in 2010, as part of the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Wildlife (USFWS)-sponsored Without Borders programme. They had been fitted with electronic chips and, despite being protected by an elite ranger unit, only three of the five rhinos are still alive, after one was killed for his horns in December 2010.

The two recently-killed rhinos were bred from a group moved from the Serengeti to South Africa in the 1960s to prevent their extinction. The remaining 27 East African black rhinos are expected to be returned to Tanzania in stages although after the rhino death in 2010 the USFWS said its relocation plans were being “re-assessed”.

Rhino poaching has increased rapidly in recent years, predominantly due to a growing demand for the rhino horn which is used in traditional medicines in countries like Thailand and Vietnam. Rampant poaching in the Serengeti during the 1960s and 1970s saw the population of East African black rhinos drop from more than 1,000 to a mere 70 in Tanzania.

Once found across Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Somalia, Tanzania and Uganda, the animals can only be found in Kenya – where the majority live – and northern Tanzania.

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